FARGO - The Fargo Force will unveil a banner for the franchise's first Clark Cup title Friday at Scheels Arena before the home opener. The banner will hang in the southeast corner of the arena.
Force coach Cary Eades has seen many hockey banners lifted to the rafters. He won two national championships as a player and one as a coach with the University of North Dakota. He won three Minnesota state championships as the coach at Warroad High School and won the United States Hockey League's Clark Cup with Sioux Falls.
Friday, Eades will see another banner raised. He will think about last season's Force captain Mark Senden lifting the Clark Cup over his head and the rest of the team swarming him. He'll think about all the personalities on the 2017-18 team.
He'll think about his dad, Pete, who died during last season at the age of 84. Eades doesn't remember the exact words he said to his team in the locker room after the Force won the Clark Cup. But he'll never forget thanking them for getting him through that time in his life.
"It was an emotional year in my life, having lost my dad," Eades said. "They helped me through that. I know I thanked them for that. That was a tough time period in my life. They did a lot of things behind the scenes and very quietly and subtly that helped me through that tough period of time."
When Eades was younger, anytime his family would pass the Vancouver Forum arena, his parents would point out that, that was where they met. His introduction to hockey was in locker rooms in Vancouver with his dad's pro and senior hockey teams. Pete was a firefighter for 36 years and played hockey and golf twice a week into his 80s. It was in locker rooms with his dad where Eades began his hockey life and it's in locker rooms where he healed from the loss of his dad.
"That's what a team is all about and good teammates," Eades said. "I think there is a real love and a bond and great teammates in that room."
Eades will watch the banner unveiled Friday, think about the Force team, his dad and then focus on Friday's opponent-Sioux Falls-and winning another Clark Cup.
"As a team, we've already done that," Eades said. "Fan-wise, we want to honor their contributions to the championship and have them excited about it and have our players look up at it and want to put a banner of their own up there. We've already turned the page team-wise. We're into the 18-19 season already. Winning last year was great and everything, but our team has a lot to prove, and obviously the unveiling of the banner will be the final public thing and we're able to move on and turn our focus completely on this season."
Eades couldn't say where last season's title ranks among his hockey accolades. Each championship had a different story.
"Every time you're able to be at the top of the mountain any year it's something special," Eades said. "You don't want to diminish any other championship team I've been on because they've all been special. There's a saying a championship team walks together forever. There is a certain bond that is created. I still keep in close contact with a lot of them.
"Last year's group was something special. It kind of came out of nowhere, being that we only had a very few veterans returning. We just kept improving. We were a tight-knit group. In the end, we were the best team. I don't know if we had the most talent, but we had the best team. That was very rewarding and something I'll take with me the rest of my life."
So, Friday, Eades will think of his dad. Eades thought of his dad in November when he died. He thought of him in December at the celebration of his life at the Firefighters Banquet Centre in Burnaby, British Columbia. He thought of him the first Father's Day he had without him in June.
He'll think of him while reading this and the fact Pete used to say, "It's never a bad thing to get ink, but when it's positive, it's even better," in regards to the media.
In Scheels Arena, a championship and a reminder of dad will hang forever for Eades.
"It's a great moment," Eades said. "One of the things that's really neat is it's pretty permanent. Anytime that we're practicing or playing or just walking into Scheels Arena 10 or 15 years from now, you walk in and you look at the year and it's pretty special. It brings back a lot of memories. It's a nice honor and the guys deserve to put up a banner and it'll be there permanently."